Finding Islands {Gift from the Sea 3: Moon Shell}

Within the first ten minutes, while the hood of the van cooled under the shade of a palm tree, she broke free from our grasp and went for the deep end. She steadied herself upright in her life jacket and churned her legs through the water like the blades of a boat motor. If she would have known the phrase, she would have said, “Told you so.” She had kicked in our arms, pushed for freedom, demanded that we let her swim with the cousins without us holding on. And she did it, swam until her tiny fingertips were “all raisins.”

At night, we  kissed her sunwarmed cheeks and watched her heavy eyes finally give in. But a few hours later, her scream tore through the sound of soothing waves and bolted us from our sleep. We cradled her, two pairs of arms and hands sweeping away bad dreams. The next day she jumped right back in the pool and buzzed around in the middle of the action.

Night two was the sleepless sequel. This time she wailed for 45 minutes straight, inconsolable. Her cry echoed out to the beach until my husband pulled the storm door on the balcony. We calmed her and put her back in bed, only to be shaken from our sleep an hour later. We talked her through, offered water, hugged her. She hyperventilated.

After a long night of short bursts of sleep, I awoke in the morning with puffy crescents under my eyes, like the moon hanging over too long into morning. We needed an intervention. I packed two lunches, strapped Farah into the car and waved to the boys as they walked off to another day in the sun with the family. We headed toward the bridge.

When my husband’s grandparents first brought their young family to vacation here in 1957, they had to wait in line at the old swing bridge to get to Fort Myers Beach. And to get from here to Sanibel, you had to take a ferry. “How wonderful are islands!” Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote from Captiva, “Islands in space, like this one I have come to, ringed about by miles of water, linked by no bridges, no cables, no telephones.”

At a stoplight, I fiddled with the map on my phone and studied the pulsating blue dot that told me exactly where in the world we were at that moment. Our islands are so connected now. We are never out of reach. And how can we expect to live “like a child or a saint in the immediacy of here and now” when we are busy thinking of how we will document the moment and share it with a few hundred friends on social media?

I turned off the radio, listened to the sound of rubber tires flapping over road seams. Farah asked where we were going. I glanced down again at the interactive map. We were headed deep into Sanibel, off the main stretch to a place of calm. Even as we approached, there was a sense that we could be wasting the day, one of our mere seven days at the beach.

But before we know “the quality to fullness that the Psalmist expressed: ‘My cup runneth over,’” we have to start toward the beginning of Psalm 23: “He makes me lie down.” First there is this giving up of overactivity, a giving in to stillness. We must lie down and rest and admit that the world will go on without our scurrying about.

Farah needed to rest today, to find another rhythm. And I learned from this, too. For weeks, I had spent my creativity on ideas for our road trip. And these couple of days at the beach, I had been worrying myself with a whole new set of challenges. After all, our vacations have changed since we welcomed our little ones to the family starting almost five years ago. There is more to fuss about now. Gone are the days of taking a novel and a towel out to the sand. Now we load our arms with life jackets and cans of sunscreen to keep the kids safe, and we turn this way and that to make sure we don’t lose anyone.

We pulled into the parking lot of the shell museum and toted our lunch to the garden area. A bench waited for us among glossy leaves and delicate flowers. We listened to the sound of trickling water. I felt it in the quiet: “He restores my soul.” Inside, we sauntered slow, touching everything, taking it in. We marveled at a clam shell bigger than Farah. We traced the growth of a mollusk from baby to adult. We matched lettered olives and conches and channeled whelks with their friends.

This felt like the purposeful giving that Anne Morrow Lindbergh noted. As I walked with Farah in this quiet space, and even as I was not fully alone, I experienced the benefits of solitude. This “belongs to the natural order of giving that seems to renew itself even in the act of depletion. The more one gives, the more one has to give–like milk in the breast.” The author wrote more, “Even purposeful giving must have some source that refills it. The milk in the breast must be replenished by food taken into the body. If it is woman’s function to give, she must be replenished too.”

Why does this sound so audacious that we should carve out some time away to be refilled? After all, “Every paid worker, no matter where in the economic scale, expects a day off a week and a vacation a year. By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off.” And doesn’t this time off makes us better fit for work and relationship when we return? Whether it be a run in the morning or reading time at a cafe in the evening or a personal retreat sometime during the year, we serve ourselves and our families well when we set an appointment for time alone.

In order to find fulfillment in whatever our calling may be, we must carve out an island of time for contemplation and creativity. And in order to be truly away, it may not be a bad idea to turn off our devices, those bridges that keep us over-connected. Anne Morrow Lindbergh said that we should “…consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, or study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself. It need not be an enormous project or a great work, but it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day….” We women come back from solitude with souvenirs of a clear mind and renewed spirit…and maybe even a piece of art.

When we arrived at the pool, Farah ran to the family to show off her shell bracelet. It was her little memento from our refreshing day away. The night was my souvenir, my little girl sleeping through, every deep breath rising to the rhythm of ocean waves.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 3, “Moon Shell” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here.}

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So, what’s your take? Pick one or more of the reflection questions in the comments section and enter a reply to share your thoughts. All subscribers’ comments on the weekly Gift from the Sea posts (shared on Mondays in June and July) will be entered for a drawing at the end of our Summer Book Club 2012.

Back to Open Waters {Gift from the Sea Intro}

He’s over the horizon by the time I rub my eyes and wave back to the ocean. My husband and the guys are on a fishing boat heading out beyond sight of land, beyond reach of cell phone towers. I grab the kids’ swimsuits from the drying rack on the balcony and pack our lunch. Out over the water, a plane sputters by dragging an airborne billboard behind it, an invitation for a meal on a nearby island.

Today, I drive us across the Sanibel toll bridge in a caravan with my sisters-in-law and all of our young children, eight little cousins so far, all age 4 and under. We stop at the closest beach, a curved arm of island that rakes in shells like the disciples with their bursting nets. I give the kids their shelling bags, but soon they drop them and go for fistfuls of shells to throw them back into the waves.

I’m in the middle of reading Gift from the Sea, and as we women fly solo on this shelling adventure with the children, I can’t help but think of Anne Morrow Lindbergh who gave up flying co-pilot with her world-famous aviator husband so that she could keep her feet on the ground as a mother raising five children. She, too, had set records in the skies, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license. Yet, she was happy to give up the turbulent life of the aviatrix to follow her heart in the work of mothering…and the work of writing.

“I think best with a pencil in my hand,” she said. She had a lot on her mind on this personal vacation on nearby Captiva back in the early 1950s. She had come with images of other women and their “porcelain perfection” and “smiling clock faces” and thought how different motherhood might be for her if she weren’t in the public eye. She had, after all, suffered through a terrible media frenzy in the midst of grief after losing her beloved firstborn son in a traumatic kidnapping and murder in 1932.

Anne looked at other women around her and envied their “smoothly ticking days”. She thought she must be one of the few women looking for her own “contemplative corner,” but over time, she discovered women of all paths and experiences who voiced similar struggles and the desire for more “creative pause” in the midst of their domestic duties.

The rest of the girls put their kids in their cars to head back, but I have the inclination to try and pull off a picnic with my two little ones. I lay a blanket over the sharp shells and pull out our sandwiches. We scarf them down, and then sink our teeth into the fruit and other incidentals. These moments are quiet with our mouths too full to talk.

But when I broach the subject of going back for nap, my toddler girl stomps toward the water and turns up her volume. I grit my teeth and catch her by the tail of her life jacket. We are in evacuation mode now. My son, in a much-appreciated moment of cooperation, flings our trash into the picnic bag. I roll the blanket up fast and grab our towels and hats and shells, then strap the burdens over my sunburned shoulders.

I trudge through sand with my flailing girl as a parcel under my arm. The struggle weighs on me. I steal a panoramic glance of the people around me and feel a bit of public glare. I have an idea why Anne Morrow Lindbergh so longed for solitude.

Yet she knew that hers was more than an individual struggle, and so she penciled down her thoughts, then held her writing to the wind and let it take wing, giving back to the people who had shared their struggles and thereby shaped her like the sea smoothes the edges of broken glass.

Back at the condo, after I’ve convinced the kids to nap, I settle in on the vinyl webbing of the balcony chair and grab my book and pencil. A breeze wafts through the screen and I sigh back.

Soon, my husband returns with news of a banquet of grouper and red snapper coming our way. And he tells me of his first catch of the day, a shark, and how he lugged it up from the water, holding firm against its thrashing. He took a good look at its thick skin and serrated teeth and its fighting spirit. After a few seconds and a mental picture, he held out the line to the fisherman’s knife. And just like that, they let it go, gave the strong creature back to open waters, where it was meant to be.

{This week’s post is based on the Introduction to Gift from the Sea featuring original words from Anne Morrow Lindbergh and a 50th anniversary reflection from the author’s daughter, Reeve Lindbergh.}

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So, what’s your take? Pick one or more of the reflection questions in the comments section and enter a reply to share your thoughts. All subscribers’ comments on the weekly Gift from the Sea posts (shared on Mondays in June and July) will be entered for a drawing at the end of our Summer Book Club 2012.